What are the best plants for shade?
Any spot in your garden that gets less than four hours of sun a day is considered a shady spot. The key to successful growing here is the soil condition. Use composted leaves and mulch to keep the soil moist and to provide humus. Among trees, shade-lovers include dogwoods and Japanese maples, although the red leaves like at least a few hours of sun a day. Wherever your shade is most dense, you can't go wrong with hostas or hydrangeas. And if you just can't live without some colour, there are plenty of options. Try impatiens, forget-me-nots, foxglove, primrose, begonias, astilbes, bleeding hearts or rhododendrons.
What's the best kind of soil?
If you cast your mind back to high school science, you may remember something called the pH level. Something with a low pH is highly acidic. Something with a high pH is highly alkaline. A lot of plants get the most nutrients from neutral soil. But not all of them. Highly alkaline soils are good for peonies and peas, while blueberries and azaleas love acidic soil. You can test your soil with a home test kit or send a sample away to a lab for testing. Altering the pH is not difficult. To neutralize, add organic matter. If you want to increase the acidity, the quickest way is to add garden sulphur, but peat, black tea leaves and coffee grounds will also do the trick. For a more alkaline soil, add limestone or crushed oyster shells.
How often should I water my garden?
You want to ensure you soak your plants anywhere from an inch to a foot deep depending on the plant and where you've put it. Waterings should be less often, but more thorough. That's because shallow watering makes for shallow root systems that are susceptible to drought. On average, you want to water your garden once a week, for about an hour. Younger plants and trees require more water than older, more mature ones in order to establish strong roots. Watering the base of your plants rather than the tops will minimize fungal diseases. It's also advisable to water your plants in the morning because leaves holding puddles of water through the night are also susceptible to rotting. To help your plants absorb more water, add a layer of mulch a few inches deep.
What's the correct way to prune my plants?
Pruning is important to keep your plants healthy, sturdy and beautiful. But it's a task that many people find intimidating, since the last thing they want to do is kill the plant. If you really don't know what you're doing, you may want to have an expert come in and do it for you –- they can also give you pointers on how to do it yourself next time. If you're willing to brave it, here are the essentials. Cut away any dead or diseased branches. You may also wish to remove crowded or non-symmetrical branches. But that's a matter of taste. Uncross any tangled branches or stems. Once you're ready to start cutting back, make sure your tools are good and sharp for a clean cut. Cut close to where the arterial branch is growing out of the main branch. And always cut on a slant in the direction you want the new branch to grow. If you have shrubs that need pruning, making them narrower at the top will help expose the base to more sunlight.
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